Tubulin mutations in brain development disorders: Why haploinsufficiency does not explain TUBA1A tubulinopathies

Cytoskeleton (Hoboken). 2020 Mar;77(3-4):40-54. doi: 10.1002/cm.21567. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


The neuronal cytoskeleton performs incredible feats during nervous system development. Extension of neuronal processes, migration, and synapse formation rely on the proper regulation of microtubules. Mutations that disrupt the primary α-tubulin expressed during brain development, TUBA1A, are associated with a spectrum of human brain malformations. One model posits that TUBA1A mutations lead to a reduction in tubulin subunits available for microtubule polymerization, which represents a haploinsufficiency mechanism. We propose an alternative model for the majority of tubulinopathy mutations, in which the mutant tubulin polymerizes into the microtubule lattice to dominantly "poison" microtubule function. Nine distinct α-tubulin and ten β-tubulin genes have been identified in the human genome. These genes encode similar tubulin proteins, called isotypes. Multiple tubulin isotypes may partially compensate for heterozygous deletion of a tubulin gene, but may not overcome the disruption caused by missense mutations that dominantly alter microtubule function. Here, we describe disorders attributed to haploinsufficiency versus dominant negative mechanisms to demonstrate the hallmark features of each disorder. We summarize literature on mouse models that represent both knockout and point mutants in tubulin genes, with an emphasis on how these mutations might provide insight into the nature of tubulinopathy patient mutations. Finally, we present data from a panel of TUBA1A tubulinopathy mutations generated in yeast α-tubulin that demonstrate that α-tubulin mutants can incorporate into the microtubule network and support viability of yeast growth. This perspective on tubulinopathy mutations draws on previous studies and additional data to provide a fresh perspective on how TUBA1A mutations disrupt neurodevelopment.

Keywords: TUBA1A; brain development; microtubule network; neuronal cytoskeleton; tubulinopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / genetics*
  • Haploinsufficiency / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Mutation
  • Tubulin / metabolism*


  • TUBA1A protein, human
  • Tubulin